How Polite is Your Professor? A Gendered Analysis of Hedging as a Tool for Student Engagement at UCLA

Layla Hernandez, Yasleen Robinson, Charlotte Norris

Throughout their lectures, professors typically engage with their students. This process often requires the professors to implement certain linguistic devices in their speech that allow for them to sound less aggressive and threatening. These linguistic features include forms of hedging. Both male and female professors rely on hedges to further display politeness when interacting with their students. In this study, we focused on how professors utilize these hedge words in ways that promote themselves in ways that are more approachable and less authoritative. We hypothesized that female professors would utilize hedges more than their male professor counterparts. Specifically focusing on the frequency of the usage of hedge words, we analyzed four sociology professors from UCLA through recordings after attending their lectures. We carefully listened to each audio and transcribed them through Conversational Analysis (CA) to further allocate the number of hedges they used when speaking with their students. A detailed analysis revealed that male and female professors do not yield significant patterns in their uses of hedges. In fact, they used them very similarly in terms of frequency and style.

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